Anyone caught up in the buzz of the inaugural Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race would have watched the women’s event and seen very clearly - Rachel Neylan is back.
She’s back in form, she’s back on her A-game and she’s back to see a lot more of the pointiest end of the podium.
The professional female cyclist is no stranger to memorable palmares - in 2012 at the age of 30 Neylan made headlines when she placed second at the World Championships.
She might have just slipped to silver at this year’s Nationals, but the 113km grind along the Great Ocean Road has catapulted her year to exactly where she wants it to be - right back at the head of the peloton.
We got hold of her just days before she jumped on a plane to New Zealand, and we asked a few questions - not all exactly textbook…
Well done again with the victory. How are you feeling?
I feel great. It was a really special day. I was so honoured and proud to cross the line first. It is a win I am never going to forget.
How is your current training going?
February is a race block for me with the Oceania Championships and Tour of New Zealand. So race blocks mean recovery, preparation; recovery, preparation. I do smaller cycles of loading and recovery rather than long extensive seven-day blocks. There’s more intensity and more recovery in order to do high-end specific workloads leading up to these two races.
Where do these races sit in the overall 2015 plan?
Both of them are key opportunities for me to put a couple more runs on the board and continue this form.
So much of you is defined by your sport, but you also give plenty back. What are some of the most important ways you do this?
I love this sport. I was a late starter yet I never stop being astounded at how much I have been welcomed into the various cycling communities in South Australia, New South Wales and Lucca, Italy, for instance. It’s all or nothing at this level and I like to give back by being a part of the community as much as I can.
The Amy Gillett Foundation was really my launching pad; they were invaluable in propelling my career into Europe, so I am always keen to help out AGF whenever and however I can. I love getting behind cycling groups like Tour de Cure and the Variety Club. All these organisations involve cycling, but they’re helping communities at the same time.
More and more I have found myself really enjoying the corporate cycling network. I have had loyal supporters in my camp now for a long time, and working with them or just having time with them say out on a social ride, is a way for me to show my gratitude.
It seems the most naff question to ask, but how important are sponsors to someone in your position?
I wouldn’t be racing without sponsor support. Few of my achievements would have been possible without the people around me helping. The likes of Oakley, Lazer, BikeSportz, SRM, Scott, Seertech Solutions… They have been some of my biggest advocates. But it is only what you make it. You can’t just send an email asking for a hand; you have to work to build relationships but then you have to invest in maintaining them, and these are two different things.
There is often talk about the level of funding - or lack thereof - into women’s cycling. What is your experience in securing corporate relationships and therefore investment in you as an athlete?
Back in 2009 when I really got serious about cycling, I had to fly myself to the US to begin my cycling career. There is no way that would have happened without a bike, without gear, without nutrition. So I built myself a website. It was still early days for that sort of thing, and definitely I was one of the first women at my level of cycling to do so. I hadn’t even got a podium place at that point! But I was starting the way I wanted to finish, and showing potential backers how I could provide value. It was also a way to take them on my journey, to share with them my goals and the bigger picture in general.
You said earlier that in your sport it’s ‘all or nothing’. So how do you maintain these relationships?
Well this year I decided to take on an agent, Andrew May. We met last year during the Tour de Cure Com Bank CAN for Cancer ride. He’s not a classic sports agent - his speciality is more in the corporate side. Getting him on board has been perfect timing. Last year was a deliberate decision not to join a team so that at my own pace I could return to form; return to winning. That is now starting to be realised and so I’m in a much better position to talk to potential partners, and Andrew is helping me do this.
Why are you a professional cyclist?
The emphasis isn’t on earning money from it, so it’s not a ‘profession’ for me in that sense. I have always been passionate about achieving the highest possible sporting excellence in my life, and for me that pinnacle is to represent Australia at the Olympics. Everything I am doing is moving me towards that Rio goal.
What keeps you motivated and pushing through the lows?
I have this innate drive and deep core urge to represent my country. That comes from a place really deep and doesn’t easily get disturbed. World stage, world championships and Olympic Games - my vision is completely fixated on green and gold.
What is the best advice you could give a young cyclist showing a lot of potential?
Keep your feet on the ground because it’s a hard road ahead. Not succeeding in your first year is not failing. Every “failure” is another tool in the kit that will make you stronger, smarter and more equipped to handle even bigger challenges later on.
Ok - now here’s 50 seconds of just fun. What’s your earliest bike memory?
Riding around 7 Mile Beach Caravan Park during the 80s on a pink 1970s style Repco girls bike - pretty sure it was heavier than I was!
Your best party trick?
Being able to move my ears backwards without moving my face.
Your Achilles Heal?
Trying too hard.
If you could have a super human power, what would it be?
To skip jet lag.
Your favourite place to ride?
What is something few people know about you?
I was born backwards (I am a fighter!).
If you were to take anyone for a ride it would be…
I am struggling between Ryan Gosling Jnr and Matthew McConaughey. Perhaps they can take me for one!
You can take them both.
You’re welcome. What’s your favourite thing to do when you’re not racing?
Relaxing with friends and family in OZ… in Lucca I love walking a lap of the old town wall at sunset & going to local markets cooking amazing local produce meals for friends & my Lucca family.
The best thing about racing is…
Winning..... and then celebrating with everyone on my journey
What’s your one race indulgence?
Racing indulgence? Racing is about not indulging! But post race would be wine and cheese. A local pecorino and a good glass of Chianti.
What’s your favourite riding dinner party story?
Probably the one about my first month in Adelaide after packing my bags and deciding to become an elite cyclist. This included my first ever bunch ride and being ridiculed for breaking all the rules - short socks, visor still on helmet, reflector still on wheels, a bit of lower back showing not knowing what the hell bib shorts were!
Aside from removing reflectors, visors and wearing long socks, what’s the best advice you ever got?
Throw the kitchen sink at it.
Thanks, Kirsty Baxter, for the winning photo!